LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – UNCW reeled off 15 unanswered points midway through the second half to climb within a basket of No. 4 Louisville before falling to the Cardinals, 68-57, on Sunday in Kevin Keatts' return to the program he helped lead to a national championship two years ago.
Keatts, the former Louisville associate head coach who took over as UNCW's head coach last April, had his team well-prepared for the heavily favored Cardinals and nearly steered the Seahawks to a major upset before a national television audience at the KFC Yum! Center.
UNCW, 3-3, has played five of its first six games on the road and finally returns to Wilmington for back-to-back games against Liberty and East Carolina this week. Louisville, 9-0, visits Western Kentucky on Saturday.
“I wanted our guys to come out and play with a lot of energy and match Louisville's energy and I thought we did that,” said Keatts. “We lost to a very good team on the road. They just made very good plays down the stretch.
“I wanted us to come out, not get on our heels and play aggressive just like Louisville would play us. We wanted to play aggressively, both offensively and defensively.”
Senior guard Freddie Jackson led the Seahawks with 16 points and added a team-high seven rebounds. Freshman point guard Jordon Talley added a career-high 13 points for UNCW, which was making its first appearance at Louisville's five-year-old facility.
Junior forward Montrezl Harrell and sophomore guard Terry Rozier paced the Cardinals with 19 points apiece. Harrell, a Naismith Award candidate, added 17 rebounds for his 17th double double of the season. Senior guard Wayne Blackshear added 11 points and senior guard Chris Jones chipped in 10 as Louisville placed four men in double figures.
The Seahawks started fast, but fell behind, 32-24, at halftime and still trailed 52-35 with just under 12 minutes remaining before mounting a furious comeback to make the 20,913 Cardinal faithful in the Yum! Center uncomfortable in their seats.
Jackson, however, turned in some spirited play and kick started a 15-0 run with a layup at the 10:54 mark. He wound up scoring six points in the spurt and a jumper along the right baseline by Cedrick Williams helped the Seahawks get within striking distance, 52-50, with 6:50 left to play.
But the slippery Rozier keyed a 10-2 rally for the Cardinals over the next three minutes as Louisville once again gained separation. Rozier, who scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half, scored on a bank shot to get things rolling and Jones capped the spurt with a basket in the lane to extend the lead to 62-52 at 3:51. The Seahawks got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
UNCW kept the game tight early and led 10-9 on a monster follow-up slam by Williams with 13:30 left in the first period. After Louisville inched out to a 19-16 advantage on Quentin Snyder's layup at 7:38, Jackson sank a jumper at the free throw line to slice the deficit to 19-18 with just over seven minutes remaining.
But the Cardinals, keyed by Harrell, reeled off eight straight points and the junior forward's bucket in the paint at 2:03 increased Louisville's margin to 27-18, their largest of the half.
Jackson drained a three-pointer from the left corner with 46 seconds remaining to chop the lead to 29-24 before Rozier added a layup and a layup just before the buzzer to give the Cardinals a 32-24 edge at intermission.
The Cardinals, who have won at least 20 games every season since Pitino's first year, survived a difficult start and were held 10 points below their season scoring average. Louisville had just seven assists on its 27 baskets in the contest.
GAME NOTES: The win was the 350th of Pitino's successful career at Louisville…The Seahawks shot 38.7 percent from the field…UNCW was outscored at the free throw line, 13-4…The two teams combined for 34 turnovers…Louisville went just 1-of-13 behind the arc…The Cardinals won the battle of the boards, 44-35…The game featured three ties and five lead changes…Redshirt junior forward Dylan Sherwood returned the lineup after a two-game absence and scored six points…Five players had at least four rebounds for UNCW…UofL outscored UNCW, 36-33, in the second half…The Cardinals have now won 34 straight games at home against non-conference opponents, the fifth longest current streak in the nation….Sophomore center Chuck Ogbodo made his second straight start and scored a career-high six points with six rebounds….There were five dunks in the contest, including four in the first 8:09 of the game.